The zombie Christmas musical “Anna and the Apocalypse” tries too hard to do too much, but this multigenre hybrid has more than enough good cheer to get viewers through another holiday season on this troubled planet.
Set in a small Scottish town a few days before Christmas, the movie tells the coming-of-age story of Anna (English actress Ella Hunt), a popular high school senior who plans to take a year off after graduation to travel. Her overprotective father (Mark Benton) worries about those plans, imagining something out of the “Taken” movies. But when a virus breaks out in the middle of the school’s Christmas pageant — which Anna describes as looking like “Narnia threw up over Oz” — turning its victims into zombies, it appears that Dad has grossly underestimated the world’s dangers.
You’ve probably seen all the movie’s tropes before. The stable of classmates is straight out of a John Hughes movie, including a nerd (Malcolm Cumming) who is in love with Anna, the jock she once dated (Ben Wiggins) and a smart-alecky lesbian (Sarah Swire). As with any zombie movie, some of Anna’s friends will have to sacrifice themselves so others can survive. And as with “High School Musical” — an obvious touchstone — there will be big production numbers (featuring songs by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly).
What you haven’t seen before is all of these ingredients squished together in the same sandwich. You may be surprised to find that the dance routines have the most flavor, especially “Hollywood Ending,” in which a cafeteria full of singing teens laments that the cheery plots of popular entertainment have left them ill-prepared for the real world. Other numbers, including one in which Anna and her classmates dance blissfully through the streets while the undead wreak havoc around them, suggests a remake of Paul Thomas Anderson’s art house musical “Magnolia,” but with adolescent zombies.
“Anna and the Apocalypse” is a low-budget affair, with such a tight shooting schedule that, according to Hunt, who spoke at a preview screening, some dances were choreographed mere minutes before shooting. Although that means that the movie lacks the precision of, say, “La La Land,” its scrappy, can-do spirit lends the film an energy that is both effusive and, at times, irresistible.
As breezy as the tone may be, “Anna” is not without satirical elements. As the zombie crisis escalates, we’re shown social media postings filled with the hashtag #EvacSelfies. And when the cantankerous school principal (Paul Kaye) expresses hope that the government will come to the rescue, his misplaced confidence seems a clear jab at Scottish politics.
While the young cast does its best to sell the gleeful music, the movie’s delirious premise eventually loses steam, as do the songs, which are stronger in the first part of the film. Yet despite this doomsday setting, “Anna and the Apocalypse” ultimately delivers an uplifting message. It may be set in a chaotic world, but it’s a celebration of the resilience of the young.
R. At area theaters. Contains graphic zombie violence and gore, coarse language and some sexually provocative song lyrics. 92 minutes.